In the wintertime, I snuggle up with a warm cup of tea and a stack of this year’s seed catalogs. Each catalog brings delight with all of the potential fruits and vegetables I could grow in my small garden. It takes time and determination to whittle down the list of wants to a reasonable amount. However, one of my goals for 2021 is to use what I have in hand. Instead of brand new seeds in the mail, I plan to scavenge a plastic tote of the last several years of seed purchases. What I find will be the map of what is to be in the garden this year.
How long seeds last depends on several factors. Storage is important. Store seeds in airtight containers, placing them in a cool and dry place out of sunlight. Under these conditions, seeds can last anywhere from two to six years after packaging. A second determination of seed viability is the seed type. According to Iowa State University Extension Services, seeds for onions and parsley last only one year. Pepper and sweet corn lasting two years. Seeds that last three years include beans, broccoli, celery, and spinach. Seeds lasting four years include cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chard, eggplant, kale, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon. Collards, cucumber, muskmelon, and radish seeds last five years. The seed viability listed for lettuce seeds is six years.
While seed type and storage can gauge seed viability to ensure success, it is best to perform a seed germination study. Seeds germinate in moist and warm conditions. The growing medium needs to be between 65 to 75 degrees. The germination process begins with the seeds absorbing moisture and requires a constantly humid environment.
You will need a few household items.
Dampen a paper towel. It should be moist but not dripping wet.
Place ten seeds two inches in from the edge of the paper towel evenly spaced apart.
Roll up the paper towel with the seeds inside.
Place the rolled towel in the bag and label it. Use one bag for multiple tests.
Seal the bag and place it in a warm area. On top of the refrigerator is an ideal spot.
Check on the seeds daily to ensure the paper towel remains moist
After a week or two, you will see the seeds germinating. Some seeds like parsley take longer to germinate. Check your seed packet for that information. It will tell you if you will need to wait longer to see germination.
To figure out the germination rate count the number of seeds that have germinated.
7 out of 10 seeds is a 70% germination rate.
You can use the germination rate to determine if the seeds are worth planting. Or you can increase the number of seeds you start to compensate for a lower germination rate. In my germination test, I tested five different seeds.
Seeds of Change SugarPod 2 Snow Pea 90%
Landreth German Red Strawberry Tomato 80%
Seed Savers Exchange Hungarian Heart Tomato 80%
Seed Savers Exchange German Pink Tomato 70%
Seed Savers Exchange Dwarf Gray Sugar Pea 100%